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Rats!

Conservation Minister Sandra Lee has announced that an ambitious project to eradicate the last remaining animal pest—Norway rats—from Campbell Island so DOC can return some rare species to live there is to be implemented following Government approval of the required funding.

Ms Lee says new money of nearly $2.7m over four years has been secured for the project, as part of the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy's $57m allocation over the next five years to control animal pests and weeds in the conservation estate.

"This is the largest pest project funded under the Biodiversity Strategy," Ms Lee said. "Its implementation will constitute a significant increase in the current pest and weed control work programme."

"Pests such as rats have a serious effect on native birds and vegetation by hunting chicks and eggs for food, and destroying nests," she said. "They also compete with native species for essential seed, insect and plant food."

Ms Lee said once Campbell Island was cleared of rats, the Department of Conservation would be able to return some unique birds to their former home. These included the rare Campbell Island teal, a flightless relative of the endangered New Zealand brown teal, as well as the Campbell Island snipe, a tiny member of the godwit family.

"This will be a major exercise, " Ms Lee said. "Campbell Island is four times the size of Kapiti Island—north of Wellington—which in 1996 was the site of the largest-ever successful rodent eradication project in New Zealand."

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The Conservation Minister also announced that around $100,000 will go towards protecting and restoring biodiversity on the Chatham Islands, with resources targeted to controlling weeds and preventing rodents from reaching vulnerable sites.

"The Chatham Islands contain many species that occur nowhere else on earth and some of these species remain critically endangered," Ms Lee said.

"These and other offshore islands are in some cases the last retreat for many of the world's rarest bird species."

"Increased animal pest control is essential in order to maintain and restore New Zealand's biodiversity, its range of unique animal and plant species," Ms Lee said. "By focusing our efforts on areas of the highest biodiversity value, we ensure that a greater range of natural habitats and ecosystems will be protected from animal pests and weeds."

Tom O'Connor, DOC Southland Conservancy, 03 214 7554 (direct line)
or 03 206 6806 (res)

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